The Difference Between A Coach And A Fighter

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Professor Tom DeBlass and a few of his high level students--photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass

There is a subject of debate in both BJJ academies and internet forums: should your coach be the best fighter in the academy? And does he deserve to be your instructor if he is not also tapping out everyone on the mat every roll?

Many BJJ guys insist the answer is “yes!”. Jiu-jitsu respect is largely given based on how well you roll against your training partners.

In the early days of BJJ in countries outside of Brazil, the coach would often be an experienced, highly-skilled competitor in a room full of enthusiastic noobs. So far advanced was the black belt, (or even purple or brown) that his abilities seemed almost like a super hero!

The coach was expected to completely dominate everyone in the academy in every roll (and often did!). After all, how could anyone learn from an instructor who could not tap everyone out in the room?!?

For this reason, many BJJ students came to expect the instructor to be the king of the hill on the mats. They were accustomed to instructors who were not only experienced competitors, but had a huge experience advantage over them.

Seems reasonable?

But let’s pause a moment and take a look at coaches from other combat sports such as boxing and MMA. Does anyone expect Greg Jackson to be able to wipe the mats with Donald Cerrone and Jon Jones? Freddie Roach is one of the top coaches in professional boxing, but does he need to beat Manny Pacquaio in sparring to establish his credibility?

Of course not. Yet this concept persists in the BJJ subculture.

Even the top dogs in the BJJ world like “Buchecha” Almeida and Rodolfo Viera have coaches, and I am wagering those coaches cannot dominate these two athletes, who are in their competitive prime.

What those coaches do have is a ton of experience and a sharp eye to analyze what is happening in a match. They can help fine tune the techniques and strategy of the top athletes. That is a different skill than being a fighter or top athlete.

Fighters are in their competitive prime and at the peak of their physical powers. I have spoken with numerous professional MMA fighters who told me there was a difference between a fighter and a coach. The coach has synthesized years of experience to be able to teach and analyze aspects of the fight that others cannot yet see. They understand, having been in a professional fight camp, that the roles were very different. Yet, in many BJJ academies there are whispers among some of the students when a young, competitor is able to hang with the much older coach on the mats.

Some rare individuals, like Andre Galvao, excel at being both a technical coach and world class athlete.

However, the Gracie brothers said it best: “It isn’t what your coach can do to you on the mat, it is what the coach can do for you!”

Read also on Jiu-jitsu Times: What Is Old Becomes New Again

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